Transitional political arrangements are common in many post-conflict countries. Such arrangements may remain in place until the first elections occur.
National authorities in transitional phases are often appointed rather than elected. Such appointments may occur via a brokered agreement by the parties to the conflict. Thus, they may not be representative of or recognized by the population.
Elections are often integral to political settlements and act as important benchmarks in a peace process.
Peaceful and credible elections and sustainable electoral management bodies are vital to political transitions. They legitimise governments and help the promotion and protection of human rights.
Elections in mission settings often take place in a context with a history of violent conflict. The mission and national actors thus need to mitigate risks. This involves strengthening the conditions for democracy and sustainable peace. In this context, a range of other actions need to accompany elections.
Peaceful elections are significant events in any transition to recovery and long-term stability. But they are only one element in this process. Elections should not, by default, lead to the withdrawal of the peacekeeping mission.
Efforts to enhance governance should address mistrust between the government and marginalized groups. It should seek to help repair what is often a broken relationship.
Depending on its mandate, the mission can play a role in helping organize elections. This can include providing logistical resources for the transportation and storage of electoral material. But this presents a dilemma. If there is little time to prepare for elections, the mission may face pressure to take a lead role. For instance, it may receive requests to distribute election materials. This presents capacity building and cost-effectiveness challenges.
Within the mission, an electoral component often leads support for elections. It should work with and coordinate the activities of all other relevant components: military; police; Political Affairs, Civil Affairs, Human Rights, and Strategic Communications sections; as well as relevant UN agencies. Due to political sensitivities the HoM should be actively engaged throughout the process.
The MLT should track stakeholder compliance with electoral aspects of political agreements. Failure to abide by these agreements can undermine the conduct of elections. In many ways this is a political effort.
The mission should also develop a security plan that fits into the electoral plan to support a secure and stable environment during the elections period. This will involve the mission’s military and police assets. Pre- and post-election periods may also see a spike in activity for the mission, as tensions may rise.
It is up to the mission to ensure international community support for its efforts. This support could be political, financial or logistical. The mission should play a leading role in coordinating donor support for elections. If this is not already the case, it should seek to have this included in its Security Council mandate.
The mission should maintain close contact with DPPA’s Electoral Assistance Division. It provides support to the focal point for electoral-assistance activities. Currently, this focal point is the USG for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. They ensure UN system-wide coherence and consistency in electoral support.
Key Operational activities
The activities of the mission to support this output include:
- Advising on the type of electoral system to put in place.
- Supporting security-related conditions that allow peaceful and credible elections to take place.
- Supporting the conduct of voter registration.
- Providing technical assistance (e.g. legal advice and training of election staff).
- Conducting public information campaigns about the electoral process.
- Handling and defusing threats to the political and electoral process posed by spoilers.
- Collaborating with other UN agencies to design electoral assistance projects.
- Providing security and logistics support during the election process.
- Planning for domestic and international observation of elections.
- Providing political and technical support to the process of government formation.
- National election commission and other relevant institutions established and functioning.
- Effective electoral dispute-resolution mechanisms in place.
- Political parties formalized and sensitized.
- Environment with a free media conducive to safe conduct of elections achieved.
- Electoral districts mapped, voter registration database created, and voter registration commenced.
- Voter education campaign established to ensure equal participation.
- Plans made to provide security in areas threatened by spoilers.
- Finances, logistics and security support agreed for the conduct of elections.
- Donor engagement and practical support determined.
- Legislative framework for the conduct of peaceful and credible elections in place.
- Mechanisms to transfer election support to UNCT (and, later, national authorities) developed.
- Wide-ranging public information strategy geared to sensitizing voters and other electoral stakeholders implemented.
- Security support, including patrolling, guarding and securing key installations and polling places, provided.
- Transparent elections conducted in a credible manner and peaceful environment.
- Arrangements for out-of-country voting (where appropriate) in place.
- Elected officials perceived as representative by most of the population.
Challenges and Risks
- Selecting a sustainable and nationally owned electoral system is challenging.
- Security incidents and/or acts of violence destabilize the process.
- Political will and/or capacity to conduct a credible process is lacking.
- Financial, logistical or institutional support is unavailable or withdrawn.
- A significant party, faction or group boycotts or refuses to take part in elections.
- Failure to deal with electoral fraud leads key players to reject the results.
- Political figures with a negative role in recent conflict return to office.
- A disruptive, politically divisive environment harms the prospects for reconciliation.
Elections need to occur soon after the end of a conflict to prove that political progress is being made. But this may undermine their potential to be peaceful and credible. The timing of elections is thus crucial.
Any decision to include or exclude spoilers requires careful evaluation. Such a decision can impact the credibility and acceptability of the electoral process. It could also affect the long-term inclusivity of political and democratic processes.
Timely, efficient and peaceful elections are a must. In an ideal world, national officials will take the lead in electoral processes. But this may make timelines unrealistic and threaten the technical conduct of elections. All electoral support should build capacities and encourage sustainability and cost-effectiveness. Even if the process is less smooth than it might be with more international involvement.